This week your humble scribe actually forked over a dollar for a copy of the Wisconsin State Journal (print edition). I hadn’t done that for a long time.
Over the last 15 years — buffeted by the internet, and hemorrhaging ad revenue — the State Journal, like other newspapers, laid off newsroom staff. The product went from a healthy thud landing in the driveway each morning to a light-weight tissue fluttering in on the morning breeze. Combine this shrunken ability to get to the bottom of things with a dismal editorial page that far too often works against the interests of ordinary people, and you’ve got a product that I normally do not buy.
But then there was this. A front-page story by Matthew DeFour and Dee J. Hall, handed out free, as usual, on Sunday at Metcalfe’s Sentry. Whoa, actual investigative journalism!?! Not just a summary of another scathing audit of the “troubled” Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), but an investigation into one of the loans made by WEDC. And it was one highly peculiar loan.
This was the kind of story that used to make people like me buy the State Journal.
A quick summary:
Struggling business owner gives $10 thousand to the Walker campaign in 2010. It’s the day before the election; it’s the maximum donation allowed by law. Later the struggling business owner wants a loan from Wisconsin taxpayers via Scott Walker’s WEDC, which exists (supposedly) to create jobs in Wisconsin. On the loan application, business owner lies. Sez he’s not been sued lately, although he has been sued… including once, recently, by the State of Wisconsin. Nobody at WEDC checked? Hard to say. The loan file’s gone missing! The guy gets a half million dollars in an unsecured loan!!! (No collateral!!!) Who gets that kind of loan? The business fails. A half million dollars of public money vanishes. Not a single job is created. Walker, harkening back to the secret email scandal, says he knows nothing. Yes, Walker’s top staff, including campaign manager Keith Gilkes and DOA Secretary Mike Huebsch, had lobbied strongly for the loan (actually for a loan 8 times larger!!). WHY? And they did so without Walker even knowing??
In an online discussion, reporter DeFour said he’d been working on the story for two months, so this was an expensive story for the State Journal to fund.
During the rest of this week, I bought a copy of the State Journal every day, either at the Sentry or the Walgreens. It’s not subscribing, but I’m happy to have reporters DeFour and Hall at work. Tip o’ the hat to them, and to the unnamed editors and bean-counters who supported them.
The story is now playing out, even in the thinnest of news sources (the radio, the tv). It seems like there’s more to the story than what’s been reported so far. The numbers make no sense. Guy gives $10,000 and gets back $500,000 no strings attached? Did some of that $500,000 come back to the Walker recall treasure chest, but this time through an impenetrable conduit of dark money like Wisconsin Club for Growth? Maybe some reporter, someday, finds someone to talk more.
Supposedly William Randolph Hearst once remarked,
“News is something which somebody wants suppressed: all the rest is advertising.”